Crock Pot Pear Butter (Awesome Sauce)

This weekend, we were invited over to a friend's house to pick pears - I love free produce! I was busy with The Munchkin, so The Man went. When he left, I told him it would be great to have a couple shopping bags of pears...I said, "Maybe two bags." Lo and behold, The Man came home, backed his car up to the front porch, and unloaded four shopping bags and an outdoor trash bag...all stuffed full of pears!! I was immediately overwhelmed, and I began searching the Interwebs for recipes and ideas.

It was already dinner time, and I knew I didn't have anywhere near enough jars to make anything and get it canned before bed, so I settled on a recipe I found for Pear Butter. The recipe was a crock pot recipe and suggested at least 24 hours of cooking. It also didn't require peeling the pears, so I knew I could get a batch in the crock pot, let it cook overnight and while I was at work today, and it would be ready after dinner tonight. So away I went, washing, coring, and chopping pears.

The end result is fabulous, so I wanted to share it with you. The recipe I used comes from "Hey What's For Dinner Mom?", a blog I follow. It's a very simple recipe, using whole, fresh ingredients (which we all know I love)! :) Even if you don't usually keep whole nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla beans on a regular basis, they're worth having for this recipe. Find a friend with these items or splurge a little and buy your own - trust me, you won't regret it!

(makes about 7 half-pint jars)

10 pounds pears, cored & roughly chopped
1/2 t freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 t freshly ground cinnamon
2 vanilla beans, split & scraped (throw the bean in the pot as well)
1/4 c water
sugar (to taste - only necessary if your pears aren't quite ripe and sweet)

Place all ingredients in a large oval crock pot. Cook on low overnight.

Wake up to the fabulous smell of autumn, and joyously get out of bed to quickly mash the pears with a potato masher. Resist the urge to sit down and eat the entire batch...go to work. :)

Come home from work and have dinner with your family...resist the urge to serve this for dinner!

If you prefer a smooth pear butter, run the pears through a food mill, food processor, or hit them with an immersion blender (I used a food mill with the fine milling disk). If you like the chunkier texture, just mash the pears with a potato masher.

If you're canning: Transfer the mixture to hot, sterilized jars. Process in boiling water for 10 minutes.

If you want to eat it now: Skip the jars and grab a spoon!



Chewy Granola Bars

I've been testing granola recipes for years, and many times, the granola is baked, resulting in a crunchy, sometimes too crunchy, texture. This is fine for me, but The Man likes chewy granola bars...particularly, those made by a popular cereal company. However, I think they're terribly overpriced, nutritionally lacking, and stuffed full of mystery ingredients. So, when I came across a recipe on Pinterest lately for a chewy granola bar, I just had to try it out!

So I did just that, with a few modifications of my own, of course. Take a look at the original Pinterest version of the recipe.

This recipe is extremely easy...even your kids can help make it with some supervision...and you'll know exactly what's in it!

Note: When I make things like this (to replace a junk product The Man likes), I *must* get his approval, or he'll never eat it. Luckily, with this, I got almost instant approval!

(makes 10 granola bars)
1/4 c butter
1/4 c honey
1/3 c brown sugar, packed
1/8 t Kosher salt
1/2 t vanilla2 c quick cooking oats (not rolled oats)
1 c crispy rice cereal
2 T flax seed meal
1 T wheat germ
1 T wheat bran
2 T mini chocolate chips

Before beginning, line a small baking pan/dish with parchment paper, leaving enough length to be able to lift the parchment from the pan after the bars are set. (I have found, with some experimentation, that my square corner 9x5" loaf pans work perfectly for this recipe.) Set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine butter, honey, brown sugar, and salt. Heat until just boiling, stirring occasionally (be careful not to let it boil over). Remove from heat and add vanilla extract.

In a medium bowl, combine oats, rice cereal, flax seed, wheat germ, and wheat bran.

Add butter and sugar mixture to the oat mixture and stir until well-combined.

Spread the mixture evenly in the lined pan, and use another pan to pack the granola together as evenly as possible. Sprinkle with mini chocolate chips. Let cool completely before removing from the pan and cutting.

Store in an airtight container.

I've made a cranberry almond version for myself. I started by soaking 1/2 c dried cranberries in warm water for about 15 minutes. Then I drained them, prepared the granola as directed above, omitting the chocolate chips. Before I pressed the granola in the pan, I stirred in the dried cranberries and 1/4 c sliced almonds.

I've got a few other variations in mind that I hope to post later. What flavors would you like to try?



Unplanned Hiatus (and Other Updates)

Good evening all! It's been a while since we've spoken, and I must apologize for my unplanned hiatus. It's always a bit crazy around this house, but that last few weeks have been uniquely crazy. We recently began planning to build a house, which consumed many evenings and weekends, and for the past few weeks (yes, weeks), I've been sick with a terrible sinus infection. I've had a few, brief moments of relief, but this seems to be the worst sinus infection I've ever had. This evening, I'm feeling slightly better, but it's difficult to be hopeful that this will last...I'm trying to be optimistic, though.

Anyway, when we last spoke, we were challenging ourselves to eat better, and I hope you've all succeeded! I hope, too, that you are benefiting from the bountiful local produce available at farmers' markets in the area. We've only got about 6 more weeks of the farmers' markets, but I'm definitely looking forward to autumn produce: apples, pears, winter squash, etc...it also means football, chili, cozy hoodies, and beautifully colored falling leaves. It truly is my favorite time of year!

Speaking of eating better and getting healthy, I recently had blood work done to test my cholesterol levels. The Man had one a few months ago, and his was high, and given my family history and my recent promotion to the 4th decade of my life, I thought it might be a good idea to find out where I stand. Unfortunately, my cholesterol is through the roof...a whopping 256!! Because I'm in otherwise perfect health (minus the chronic sinus infection they finally diagnosed this week), the doctor has prescribed a cholesterol diet, fiber supplement, and red yeast rice (a supplement known to lower cholesterol). And I have to have another blood test in 3 months.

Then I began my research...like I do. I've discovered the keys to lowering cholesterol include the following:

  • decrease dietary cholesterol (less than 300 mg cholesterol daily)
  • increase soluble fiber (fruits, vegetables, beans)
  • increase whole grains (breads, pastas, brown rice)
  • increase omega-3 fatty acids
  • increase healthy fats (nuts, olive oil)
  • decrease saturated fats (meats, dairy, some oils)
My diet is pretty healthy as it is, though I like chocolate and the occasional [bag of] Oreo[s] (teehee), so starting today, for the next three months, I will be a vegetarian - that should cut out what little meat I eat and increase my soluble fiber intake. I'm also going to cut back on dairy - I already drink soy milk, but I am a cheese lover, so... :( We already eat whole grain breads and pastas and brown rice, and I've recently started making granola for my breakfasts, so incorporating more whole grains won't be difficult. I cook with olive oil, but I plan to start snacking on more almonds and less chocolate (and Oreos)... :( 

I'm going to track my food intake with MyFitnessPal, since it will track my cholesterol intake and give me a good idea of the big picture over a period of time. I fear, however, that not having a cholesterol lifeguard in my gene pool means all of this dietary change is pointless - every family member I've spoken to has shared their story of high cholesterol. But it's worth a shot since I don't like taking medications...especially at the tender age of 30. :(

That's all for now. Let's hope I can turn this around without medication! :)